“Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat” (Wikipedia). The dominant idea is replenishment of that which has been consumed. We can all benefit from renewable energy, not merely to keep the lights on in our homes but also to keep the fire going in our souls. This is what I am hoping for as I soon commence my sabbatical. The next three months will serve as a “pastoral pause” for the purpose of renewal (in many ways) so that the light of Brackenhurst Baptist Church will continue to shine—brighter and to the glory of God.
I have never had a sabbatical and in fact have always been a bit suspect about such pastoral pauses. I was of the persuasion that a pastor’s lot is not much different than that of others who are at the “coal face” of teaching, leading, personnel development and conflict resolution. It seemed strange that I should get a regular long term break from the rigours of labours since the members of my church are rarely or even ever provided with one. My view was that, as a pastor, I should be careful to daily renew my energy levels by a meaningful time with the Lord and to prepare myself to be “steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) and to not grow weary in well doing.
I still hold to this view. But over the past year or so I have also begun to appreciate the need for time away from the forest so that I can more clearly see the trees. I have come to realise that I need a more protracted time in which to renew my energies that I might run better and to finish well. It is for this reason that, in consultation with my fellow elders, I will, from 6 June, embark on a three-month sabbatical. My purpose for this pastoral pause is to wait on the Lord and renew my strength so that iI will be able to mount up with wings like the eagle, to run and not be weary, and walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31). Like the renewable energy that is increasingly available to our world, I desire to experience spiritual replenishment on a human timescale of three months, empowered by the Son as I search the Scriptures. And since I will be in the States for seven weeks of their summer, I will also perhaps be replenished by the sun!
This sabbatical, however, is not designed for “fun in the sun.” The goal, rather, is deeper fellowship with the Son. I plan to do a lot of reading and studying in areas of theology that will help me in my desire to know the Lord. I will be visiting a couple of churches for the purpose of learning from them in order to return better equipped to equip our church. I will be spending four weeks with Daniel Bennett and the Bethany Community Church in Washington, Illinois. Daniel and his family have invited me to stay with them and the elders have graciously provided an office at the church, as well as a vehicle! I look forward to gleaning much from this wonderful church. I will also be spending one week with the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. This no doubt will also prove to be time well spent and I look forward to observing and then sharing what I learn upon my return.
Jill will be with me for a couple of these weeks, including a trip to Rhode Island, where we will attend and participate in our niece’s wedding. I will also preach at the Grace Bible Church there. Of course, I will also be spending some time with my widowed mother. For a week, I will be painting, gardening, cutting down trees (I love that!) and being spoiled by her love and hospitality. I suspect she will feed me some of my childhood favourites!
While I am absent, the pulpit will be capably filled by the elders as well as some pastor friends from sister churches. The elders will be working through the book of Philippians and this no doubt will strengthen our congregation to “rejoice in the Lord” ever more (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). My plan is to be back in the pulpit on Sunday evening, 4 September.
Upon my return to South Africa on 29 July, I will visit various churches with a view to gleaning from what the Lord is doing elsewhere. I will invest time in reading, writing and learning in order to return better equipped for what I trust will be at least another fifteen years of pastoral ministry of preaching and shepherding.
I am grateful for some men who have undertaken to be on standby to help my family while I am away and I know that many more are willing to assist. It is wonderful to be a part of a church that cares, and that the care is both compassionate and constructive.
As I begin this sabbatical, I want to request your prayers that this will prove to be a fruitful time of reflection, renewal and reformation. I desire to return new and improved so that I might more fruitfully serve the Lord by serving BBC. This morning, I began reading through 2 Corinthians and the words of 1:24 sum up my present and future desire for my ministry to our church: a “fellow worker for your joy.”
In order for this to be achieved, I need this time of renewal. Though I will miss you, you can be sure that I will not cease to pray for you. And I trust that upon my return you will soon say, “Doug’s pastoral pause has made a difference—for the better.”